Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A bad start, but good finish

Today was another one of those days. Thoko, Thini, Gladys and I had planned to visit some homesteads that are a part of Lutsandvo Lwa Krestu which I was very happy to do. However, I haven't been feeling well the last few days and I was still not feeling great this morning. I had a slight headache and was GROUCHY. Then a series of events happened (This is Africa) that prevented us from leaving downtown Manzini as early as we should have which just kept making me grumpier and quieter. We finally arrived at the first homestead, and the people weren't home. (I must say, for people that have no money, they sure are gone a lot! I can't figure out where they go or how they get there.) As I'm backing out of the homestead down a very narrow path with grass chest high on either side, grumbling to myself that the ladies make me drive right up to the homesteads and won't walk any further than they absolutely have to, I notice my car is overheating. Great. So we get to the little town not far away and I pull over into some shade next to a tiny petrol station to let the car cool down. Then I realize I didn't have a rag, a screw driver, pliers, water or anything in my car. So Thoko and Gladys went to ask some guys by the Petrol Station if they would come help. So about six guys come and lean over the car talking in SiSwati, of course and pretty much ignoring us. They did discover that the fans weren't running. They came up with all kinds of ideas of what they should do which made me very nervous and even more irritated. It was taking every ounce of my being to keep my mouth shut and not snap at them. I wanted to just get in my car and drive it home and then to the radiator shop in a near by town that did good work for me last year. I felt certain if I kept the car moving at a decent speed the wind would cool the engine. They weren't about to let me leave. I had visions of my car in pieces and then them not knowing what to do or not having the part. Finally someone called the mechanic from around the corner to come help. He wanted to test to see if the fans would run by putting a wire from the connector on the fan to the battery. It didn't work the first few times he tried it and then one of the guys saw that the wire was broken most of the way through at one spot. So the mechanic cut the wire and tried again. (By cut I really mean used his teeth to pull the wire apart!) This time it worked so he wrapped the wire around some parts so it wouldn't come loose when the car was moving so the fan would run whenever the car is on. And then he left. I didn't even get a chance to ask if I could pay him. Talk about a good Samaritan! That was the turn of the day.

We visited several homesteads. These families have become so close to my heart. They're almost like family. And I know exactly where they live even though there are no street signs or house numbers or even pavement on the "streets". As always I just adore the grandparents who are caring for the children, which is most often the case. One gogo came running in from her garden to speak to us. She was embarrassed because she was dirty and in her work clothes. But she was just adorable. She gave the volunteers butternut squash that were unbelievably big. Another family has the nicest homestead with many different fruit trees and a lovely vegetable garden as well as crops such as sweet potatoes. They even have a grape arbor! This grandfather gave the volunteers so many sweet potatoes they could hardly carry them! But the best part of the visits are the children. It is so great to see the kids and be able to talk to them now. One child who was so sick when we first met him 8 months ago came right up to me and said in English as bold as can be "how are you?" Thoko couldn't help but laugh at him. And then at the last house we stopped at a little boy about 2 or maybe three, came towards the car with a big smile and put his hand out for me to shake in a greeting of hello! The first time I saw him he kept peeking behind his mother at me. Those little precious moments are so dear to me.

One of the reasons we were making the homestead visits was to introduce the families to the local Manyano woman who would be following up with them as we transition the program to the local congregation who will then communicate back to us if there are needs. This will enable us to move to additional schools. It is part of our project plan and the right thing to do. However, I found myself thinking, I can't not see these precious children and families again. We're going to have to come periodically and check up on them because I'm not ready to say good-bye to them. I know, it's not supposed to be about me, but I'm a wimp sometimes.

As I drove us back to Manzini I realized once again how blessed I am and how faithful our heavenly Father is. This morning I kept praying for the Holy Spirit to fill my heart with joy and take the grumpy attitude away and before I realized what happened he did. God is good. All the time. God is good.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Progress on Latrines - Yeabo!

John (the builder) Bethuel and I had a good meeting up at Lomngeletjane this morning discussing the progress, the next steps, alterations to the architect drawing (which leave A LOT to be desired) and negotiated the labor cost for John (the builder) and his two helpers to finish both toilets. We would normally have done the negotiations first, but we started rather quickly just before Easter and so we negotiated the first part and now the second part. However, because our first 2009 UMVIM team from the Louisiana Conference will be arriving on May 22nd, John was very motivated to get started on the latrines so that they would be finished before the team arrives.

Mixing cement the African way! In the background are the two latrines and John (the builder) in blue with the white hat near the pit and Bethuel our volunteer general contractor who is my technical advisor and does the leg work of ordering all of the materials for our building projects.

The first pit with the walls lining the pit finished as well as part of the bracing for the slab which will be "poured" over the top.

One of John's workers in the pit measuring the length of one of the support poles. Notice the ladder. This is the only one they have - hand made out of poles from trees.

Looking into the second pit that isn't finished yet. Notice the plank (board) laying across two steel drums. This is their scaffolding.

The next round of supplies are being ordered today so they can pour the slab of the first pit and then after a few days start on the walls of the house. They will also finish up the second pit to bring it up to the same level as the first.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Trip to Johannesburg

I left on Wednesday afternoon to go to Benoni (a suburb of Johannesburg). I needed to take my car back to the mechanic who did some work on my car in February. He had replaced the tire rod ends but told me I needed Upper Arm controls and lower ball joints for both front wheels. I had to get them in Swaziland because my car is a direct import from Japan, which means that some parts are different. Swaziland is one of the countries that allow with direct imports because the cars are cheaper. South Africa doesn’t deal with direct imports so they can’t get the parts that are different.

The sun was setting just as I got to Benoni. The sunset was an awesome display of God’s glory. The sun was a bright red ball and there was a single white and grey cloud covering the top of the sun and then the most beautiful rays of the sun shining upward from the top of the cloud. Everyone says that nowhere in the world are the sunsets as beautiful as they are in Africa. I certainly agree with that statement. They are incredible.

Thursday we (Richard Bosart and I) took my car to the mechanic and then I met with the new Bishop of the High Veld and Swaziland District of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa. After that Richard and I drove down to visit with Siphiwe in his new church which is about 45 minutes south of Benoni. It was so good to see Siphiwe. His two year stint in Swaziland was up at the end of last year and he was transferred to a white church in SA. He was like a son to me when I first came to Swaziland and I miss him very much. But, he’s doing well and seems to like his new post very much. It brings challenges for him, especially preaching in English, but I know he is up to those challenges.

On Friday we ran some errands. I had a list of things I can't get in Swaziland that wanted to get while in SA. We had lunch at McDonalds! There isn’t McDonalds in Swaziland or Nelsprit, South Africa. In the US I rarely eat at McDonalds. Over here, whenever I go to Johannesburg I look forward to having a Quarter Pounder and French fries because it is a true taste of America. PLUS over here they have Choccochinos which is coffee with hot chocolate, and I LOVE it.

Friday afternoon we called to check on my car and the mechanic told us that when they went to put on the parts they discovered that the CV joint on the right wheel was broken. Luckily he was able to locate one in the Jo’burg area and install it by the end of the day. He said he couldn’t believe I drove all the way from Swaziland with it broken. I said Thank You to God for keeping me safe and prompting me to get the car fixed instead of waiting longer. I, of course, didn’t know there was anything major wrong. The car just wasn’t handling quite right. But it was that nagging feeling deep inside that prompted me to get it fixed now instead of waiting until May when I drive to SA to pick up the first team from the US.

Saturday, after a fantastic breakfast taco (Richard is a great cook!) and two cups of caffeinated coffee (I haven't had an ounce of caffeine even in chocolate since February) I headed back to Swaziland, stopping by McDonalds for one last choccochino to drink on my way. Traffic was light and the day beautiful. I returned safely to Swaziland in what is probably record time.

Today I went to church at the International Church in Ezulweni and then went to my friends Mary Beth and Ron’s house for dinner and visit. Tomorrow is King Mswati III’s birthday so it is a holiday which means I will spend the day at home reading a good book and maybe watching a movie on my laptop. I will stay as far away from the crowds that may come out to celebrate and away from the soldiers and policeman with machine guns who will be patrolling the areas that he will be in or driving through. I’m not sure I will ever get used to policemen and army personnel riding in the back of pickup trucks or walking down the street with their machine guns. It is always leaves me a bit unsettled, especially when I think that most of these guys are probably not very educated and probably don’t speak English. If I happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time they’d probably just as soon shoot me as try to communicate to me to get out of the way or to move elsewhere. So I think my plan of staying home is a good one.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Da Pits

Yeabo! We have pits! Two of them! I went up to Lomngeletjane today to pay John the labor cost of his guys digging the two pits, one for the girl's latrine and one for the boy's latrine. He wasn't on-site so I phoned him. (I was late waiting on Bethuel who was supposed to come but never showed up. TIA) John asked me how I like the pits and if I was happy. What was I supposed to say? I asked if they were the measurements of what the plans called out. He said "yes" and I said "I love them". He was happy. The picture doesn't do them justice, but imagine digging two of these pits with only a worn out crummy little shovel. I think these pits were much deeper than the guys were tall. I don't have any idea how they do this but I know I'm impressed. Yes, I know, sometimes it doesn't take a lot to impress me.

And this is the yield of about 1/3 to 1/2 of the maize crop that was planted in December. Hopefully this is the first crop harvest of many for Lomngeletjane. Hopefully, the first of many!

BTW, I must be becoming Swazi... The temperature dropped to 20 degrees Celsius (68 F) at Lomngeletjane with a slight breeze and it was 22 degrees Celsius (71.6 F) and I was cold wishing for a jacket. hummm

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Love and Forgiveness.

The celebration of Easter in Swaziland begins on Thursday evening; or at least it does for the Methodist Church of Southern Africa. Members from all of the congregations travel to the "mission" church or main church in their circuit where the Superintendent of that circuit arrives. Each circuit (there are 3 in Swaziland) has an average of 50 congregations. Some of these congregations may only have 4 or 5 adult members. The celebration starts with an evening service on Thursday centered on the last supper, Jesus' arrest and the trial. This service was over 5 hours long and ended a little after 1:00am on Friday morning. Most of the people who attend Easter services camp out in the classrooms of the primary and high school. Services resumed at 9:00 am on Friday morning focusing on the crucifixion, breaking for lunch and then more services/meetings in the afternoon. There was another service Friday evening. Saturday was a day of meetings and then another service starting at 7:00 pm which was a memorial service followed by a revival which lasts all night long. The resurrection is celebrated as well as Holy Communion at 5:30 am and then a final service at 8:30 am.

During this period there is a lot of singing and sermons by all of the pastors, local pastors, evangelists, bible women, stewards, etc. The meals for the three days are prepared by the women of the different congregations. They are each assigned a meal and depending on the size of the congregation there may be several congregations that work together. They fed over 800 people Thursday night and expected to feed close to double that amount on Friday and Saturday.

On the surface, this sounds like an awesome tribute to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. And indeed it is. But I wonder about all of the people in those outlying small congregations that can't afford the transport money to come to St. Paul's or for whatever reason can not leave their homestead for that long. These are the people that probably need the hope of Easter services the most, however, they receive nothing. From what I understand there are no services anywhere except for the big gatherings at the mission churches. This deeply saddens me.

My struggle leading up to the Easter services was that I don't understand a word of what is being said or sung. Oh, I understand a few basic words such as Jesus, Christ, God, heaven and you. But that isn't enough to understand what is going on. I also don't have the stamina to sit in services for that length of time, especially when I don't understand the language. I kept praying for the Lord to open my heart and to tell me what to do. I was contemplating not attending the services and perhaps going to Nelsprit for the weekend to hide. But as the weekend got closer I felt my heart was opened and that I would be able to sit through the services over the weekend or just stay in my house when I had had enough. Indeed I attended the entire service Thursday evening. But after about 3 hours I found it difficult to stay awake and to think of new things to meditate and pray on. By the time the service was over I had read and studied the account of the events of Holy week through the resurrection in each of the four gospels multiple times.

As you can imagine, with that many people camped out here, it was quite noisy all night long. After very little sleep, I decided that I would get as much out of Friday morning if I stayed at home re-read the Gospels, wrote in my journal, listened to my Christian music and prayed as I would if I attended the services. So I stayed in my place and had some sweet, sweet time with the Lord. I got ready to go up to the church after lunch and was just about to walk out the door when I started getting a rather severe muscle pain in my lower to mid back. I walked up to the church in pain, trying to massage it out. I spoke with a few people, but had to leave after about 15 to 20 minutes because the pain was excruciating. I took a lot of Motrin and iced my back during the afternoon and evening. It still bothered me on Saturday and I decided to just stay at home. If someone wanted to talk to me, they know where I live and have my phone number. I was feeling rather guilty, but the thought of sitting on a hard plastic chair for hours upon hours kept me from going up there. I actually slept about 10 1/2 hours on Saturday night which if you know me, is a miracle.

I got up this morning, caught a Joyce Meyers talk on the television and then decided to go up to Mbabane to attend the late service at the Healing Place Church. It is basically an American worship service in Swaziland. I walked into the church and was greeted and hugged by several people (greeters) that I didn't know. That confirmed to me that I was where I belonged at that moment. The music and worship brought tears of love, joy and thanksgiving streaming down my cheeks. I felt Jesus' arms around me telling me not to worry or feel guilty, that I was right where I was supposed to be. My cup runneth over. Afterwards I was invited to join my friends who are here with Children's Cup to go out to dinner where I had a wonderful time talking with people who have become very dear friends and my family here in Swaziland.

And the back pain? It mysteriously disappeared this morning. Devine intervention? An answer to my prayers of the past week or so? I'm thinking the answer is yes and that I wasn't listening when He told me it was okay not to sit through all of those services that I didn't understand out of obligation, so He got my attention in a BIG way. I'm so glad He did, because spending an hour or so in precious sincere worship with my God was worth so much more to me and I think to Him than days worth of obligatory worship that was not heartfelt.

Happy Easter and Praise the Lord!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Progess and Praises

Yeabo! The grader came yesterday and graded the land where the latrines and teacher's house will be built. This morning John (the builder) and I met to go over the drawings and determine the quantity of various materials he will need for the two latrines. It is a process that always thoroughly amazes me. The architect drawings left something to be desired in some ways. One big issue is that they didn't have a good means of support for the slab on top of the pit. These plans were drawn in 1982 and the government doesn't have anything more current. At almost every school I have visited the slabs on top of the pits have collapsed into the pit. John and I wanted to improve the plan so that won't happen. We actually both had the same idea and once again I was so grateful that we could both share our ideas and discuss the situation and come to a mutual understanding. Then as he figures out in his head the quantity of what he will need to do the job I sit there in silent amazement. I'm not sure if this guy has any formal training in this profession. He may not hit all the quantities right on the nose, but my experience so far is he comes darn close. I certainly couldn't do what he does with all the calculators in the world. So that's why we make a good team. We negotiated the labor rate, which seemed fair to me. There are only three things I wish could have been done differently. One, that Bethuel, the volunteer general contractor who knows building and actually orders the materials for me was there to double check what we decided on. Two, that we had a better estimate of the materials before we start, but I have a rough figure in my head. We'll see how close I come to guesstimating the cost. And three, I wish he and his guys weren't digging the pit (by hand) over the Easter weekend, but I understand their wish to earn money and I am glad that John is as concerned as I am to have the pit dug before our first team comes in May. To quote John, digging the pit is too much hard work to expect volunteers to do, and I would have to agree with him. I offer up praises to God for this success. This whole process is such a transformation from when I first came and he was working on the first set of buildings which was a two-seat latrine. I can't judge them based on their religious affiliation or dedication. I don't really know if John is a Christian or not, but I know that he occasionally attends church and that though he may have many faults, he is a trustworthy person with a good heart who cares for his community and the children.

Another praise is that yesterday about six women, parents of children attending Lomngeletjane, harvested the first crop of maize at the school! It will now dry for a about 3 or 4 weeks on the veranda of the food storage/office building that was finished in February before it can be ground into mealie meal. The teacher and John are eager to plant some vegetables before the children go on holiday for three weeks beginning April 24th. The concern is watering the plants during the holiday. The teacher and I and John and I have talked about hiring one of the children who can't afford a uniform or to pay school fees to water the garden and take care of the trees over the course of the school year and earn that money. Thoko is my adviser on matters such as these (of course) and she also thinks it is a great idea that is very doable especially since John will be on site building the latrines during the holiday so he can keep an eye on him to make sure the child does what he/she is supposed to do.

Today is also the start of the Easter services. Many people from the different societies (congregations) will be coming and basically camping out in the primary and high school classrooms until Sunday morning. The time leading up to this has been emotionally and spiritually hard for me on multiple levels, but God is showing me in so many ways that He is always with me and will continue to bless me because I hold firm to my faith and hope in Him. I thank all of you that have sent me Easter cards and notes of encouragement. They have truly been a blessing and a precious gift.

One more thing...please keep praying that the school gets registered the first of May. There seems to be a bit of hope in that direction. Evidently the government's fiscal year begins May 1st and the directive has been given to sort out the problem and give the school a registration number which means we will get four teachers and a head teacher, desks, chairs, blackboards, etc. Not exactly sure how long that will take, but as the saying goes, "the check will be in the mail!"

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Mahlatsini Society

Today Bethuel took me to visit a small society (congregation) that has been trying to build a church for at least 5 years. Their previous structure is very old and was in such a state of disrepair that they decided to build a new one. Bethuel isn’t sure where they are currently worshiping; probably at one of the member’s homestead. There are 3 gogo’s, 7 young, working age females (probably 20 – 30’s), 4 men in the same age category and 34 orphaned children. They want the building to worship in, but they really want the structure so that they have a place to do things such as start a feeding scheme for the orphans, start a pre-school, or maybe start other endeavors that might bring some income into the church to help care for the elderly and orphans. Our next step will be to meet with the stewards of the circuit to get more specific details including drawings, a list of materials and quotations of cost as well as discuss some ways of finishing the building in a less expensive way to reduce some of the costs up front. At a later date if they raise more funds, they can finish the church the way it was initially intended. I’m going to guess though that assuming they provide all the labor, the materials will probably come close to 90K to 100K rand which at a 8.5 to one exchange rate, which is about where is it right now, would translate into approximately $11,000. to $12,000.

This site has a good feel to it. The landscape, as always is beautiful. When I look at how much they did on their own, I am encouraged that this structure is really needed and that they would make very good use out of it other than using it just for worship on Sunday mornings. Please pray for the Lord to guide us as we consider this project and if it is His will to provide the funding from somewhere.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Trees and a language lesson

I went up to Lomngeletjane this morning to work with the trees that were planted as a windbreak for the school and a future orchard. They were planted in November or December. Watering wasn't an issue then because we got so much rain this summer. Thembie said she would water them for us, but then slipped in the mud the first week of February and has been laid up ever since. It just dawned on me this weekend that we haven't had any rain in close to a month now. So I got the great idea to go up and check on them, cut the tall weeds and grass around them and water them. Great idea. Unfortunately, today was a very hot (only 80, but it seemed much hotter), windless, sunny day. And as always, plans change so I wasn't able to get up there until about 11:00.

But, the good news is, the trees are still surviving. Most are actually about waist high. A few have either died or were never planted, but I was pleasantly surprised. On my way across the field that has grass, weeds & miscellaneous plants about waste high, I started to freak out about the possibility of snakes slithering around in there. Did I ever pray hard for God to keep those serpents away! I worked
for about 1 1/2 hours and was just about ready to collapse because of the heat and quit when about 20 kids came swarming down upon me. One was carrying an old paint bucket full of water. So I showed him where to dump it and told him I needed more water. I speak very little Siswati, but do know the word for water (emanti). So between me pointing, holding up fingers to indicate two, and talking, the kids brought down enough water for about a half a dozen of the trees to get two buckets full each. And the best part is they all learned the English word for tree, water and even came to understand when I told them to back up away from the little trees. (I kept saying "hamba back" and gesturing to them to scoot back. Hamba means go). The sad part is, I couldn't figure out how to communicate to them that I wanted to know what the Siswati word for tree is. At one point I went to the car to get my camera with most of the kids following close behind. As I was getting the camera some of the girls started pointing to the sleeve of my t-shirt and saying something. Then they started picking the very sharp stickers off of it. I later learned they were telling me the name of those stickers. It was very cute.

It is now evening and I'm still sitting here with a heat headache, but it was worth it.

Look hard in this first picture. There is actually a tree in front of the children. I promise. I'm not making it up.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Lutsando Lwa Krestu Homevisits

On Wednesday we started making the visits to homesteads for Lutsando Lwa Krestu. We visited four homesteads that were in close proximity of Salukazi Methodist Primary School. The first homestead was that of a gogo (granny) who is taking care of 2 granddaughters in primary school and a grandson in high school. The mother died 4 years ago and their fathers deserted the children. Their were abouts are unknown. As always we sat on mats, prayed and then the ladies talked about the situation. I would get the important information via translation. I would sit and observe the faces and silently pray for the children and caregivers.

From there we went to a second homestead where two girls, ages 11 and 8 are living with an uncle and his three children. I assume his wife also lives with them. The father passed away and this time the mother deserted the children. They know where she lives, about 1 1/2 hours drive from this homestead, but she won't help with the children. My guess is she is probably living with another man or trying to work. As we were sitting with the uncle and his 3 year old son, the family dog came and laid down on the ground near where we were sitting. I looked at the dog and thought "Wow, I've never seen this behavior in a dog here. He seems well fed and seems to want to just be near people." That thought no sooner flashed through my mind when the rural health motivator, who is also a member of
Salukazi Methodist church's Manyano called the young boy over and told him something. She had told him to go get a stick and scare the dog away. So I am watching in horror as this 3 year old boy beats the dog with a stick until he gets up and leaves. Then he and the woman started throwing rocks at him so he wouldn't come back. I was mortified, but had to hide behind my sunglasses and hat rather than express my horror. I don't understand how children or adults are supposed to love one another when they can't even treat an innocent dog with tolerance, much less love. As I said, most dogs here are so skinny and mangy that I wouldn't want them near me. Rabies is also a big problem here, but this dog wasn't being a threat. I just don't understand things some days. Maybe I'm not supposed to.

At the third homestead there were three girls, ages 6 and 7 living with their grandmother and great grandmother. They are cousins, but both parents of the girls have passed away. The great grandmother was the one that seemed to be most in control. The grandmother came out with only a shawl around her shoulders and a skirt on. We briefly saw a
elderly man in the house and I assume it is a grandfather, but who knows? She also seemed like she might be ill or on some sort of alcohol or drugs. Homemade beer is quite common around here especially this time of the year when the marula fruit is ripe.

fourth homestead is that of a girl I've been helping get medical care for almost a year now. She and her younger brother and sister live with an uncle, his wife and 3 year old child. Both parents have passed away. The homestead actually looked better than any I had seen that day. There was actually a nice (for Swaziland) house built out of blocks with a porch. The blocks had been plastered and painted at one point. This child has some sort of a skin fungus that is very bad. It has gotten into her eyes and she has lost some vision because of it. The most frustrating part for me is that we are trying to help, but we doubt she is taking the medication she needs, probably because of cost and she doesn't tell us when she needs to go back to the Dr. so her medical treatment is very sporadic. Her body language tells a story of a very low self esteem. We wonder about abuse as well because she looks so horrible with all of the sores on her head, face and neck. Once again it is a situation where we are trying to help, but its not getting any better. One of the volunteers is going to take her to the Dr. next week and we are going to dig a little deeper to try and find out what is going on medically and at home and then be more firm in getting the correct medical attention and monitoring to see that it is followed up at home and at school. This child was tested for HIV a few months ago and was found to be negative. The volunteers want to have her tested again because they are sure she is positive. This is where there is a fine line where the stigma and discrimination of HIV/AIDS raises it's ugly head. To appease the volunteers we will have to have her tested again, but they still will have a hard time accepting a negative outcome, if that is what we get again. The possibility taints every ones opinion of the situation.

Over all, the four families we visited didn't seem to know their HIV status and there wasn't any talk of "the sickness" or "tablets", but in some ways the needs were much greater than they were at
Luftoja. All of the families were growing food, but none could pay the child's school fees and all of them needed decent uniforms and a pair of shoes. So the challenges will continue. Next week we hope to visit another four homesteads but with preparation for the Easter services, that may be difficult.

Pray for these children and their guardians. Pray for strength and wisdom for the volunteers and I.